NASA Wallops Flight Facility-Morehead State Ground Network For Small Satellite Mission Operations
The initial elements of a Ground Network (GN) have been established to support a growing need for high data rate from university, commercial, and government-developed CubeSats transmitting over government licensed frequencies. The NASA Wallops-Morehead Ground Network (NWMGN) currently consists of two large-aperture Earth Stations: 1.) the Wallops UHF Radar CubeSat Ground Station (located at NASA Wallops Flight Facility Virginia USA, and 2.) the Morehead State University 21-Meter Ground Station (Morehead, KY, USA). The Wallops 18-Meter diameter UHF-Band and the Morehead State 21-Meter diameter antenna form the basis of the NWMGN that currently operates at UHF-band and S-band. The Wallops UHF Radar is one of only two dishes with similar capability at UHF Band (380 to 480 MHz) in the U.S. The Morehead State University 21-Meter system currently is able to support satellite science missions operating at S-band (2.2-2.4 GHz) and X-band (7.0 -7.8 and 8.025 – 8.5 GHz) and Ku-(11.2-12.7 GHz) with most mission operation support occurring at S-band. The NWMGN provides comprehensive communications services for customers that operate small-scale space assets. These services include telemetry, commanding, and program tracking services for orbital missions. Analysis services including RF link modeling and simulation, coverage analysis, and ground station compatibility assessments are also offered by the NWMGN. These services can potentially be used during the mission design phase to facilitate the satellite developer's achievement of the desired level of communications systems performance that ultimately drives data downlink rates, total data received, and telemetry and command functions. The Morehead ground station is capable of providing services to a wide variety of mission customers, at various low-earth orbits (LEO), geosynchronous orbits (GEO), highly elliptical orbits, Lagrange point orbits, Lunar, and inner solar system missions at multiple frequency bands through all phases of a mission’s lifetime. The significant gain of the two major elements of the NWMGN represent a major improvement in risk reduction and potential mission success to CubeSat and microsatellite operators by significantly increasing the RF link margin over the amateur radio ground stations which have been used for these missions. NWMGN services are contracted through the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. The NWMGN currently operates at UHF band and S- band with long term plans to offer ground operations services on both ground stations at X-band and potentially higher frequencies. NASA Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) has numerous ground station assets covering a wide variety of frequencies and supporting all types of science satellite missions, not just small ones. The Morehead State 21 Meter is an extremely capable system, having pointing and tracking specifications capable of supporting space assets in a wide range of Earth orbits, sufficient aperture (and therefore gain) to support missions to the Moon and the inner solar system, and excellent surface accuracy (RMS surface deformations)—good enough to potentially support Ka band missions. The technical capabilities of each of the ground stations and the network are described in this paper.
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space Operations, SpaceOps 2014 Conference, 2 May 2014.